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Women Offender Programs and Issues

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Exemplary Community Programs For Federally Sentenced Women : A Literature Review


In response to the preceding review of the literature on community programs available to federally sentenced women, the following recommendations are suggested:

1. Community-based sanctions as alternatives to imprisonment should be considered by police, judges, lawyers, and correctional service workers.

Incarcerating women for long periods of time may serve to resolve a short-term problem and invoke the sentencing objective of punishment, however it ultimately impedes the longer term goals of reducing crime and aiding women. Considering community-based alternatives to imprisonment such as fines, restitution, community service orders, probation, and counselling serve to enhance the positive connections women develop in the community and, hence, their likelihood to lead a life free from crime. Other alternative measures which entail custodial sentences include:

a. semi-detention - this option allows offenders to work outside the prison, attend educational courses, or undergo medical treatment typically during the daytime;

b. work release - the offender is permitted to be employed outside of the prison compounds (often a sub-component of semi-detention);

c. weekend detention - a form of intermittent custody in which the sentence is served on weekends or on other specified days;

d. serving at an outside institution - the sentence may be served at a care centre, such as a hospital, instead of a prison

(Axon, 1989a:98).

A community training residence (CTR) is another alternative means to incarceration. CTRs are residential custodial facilities which assist the offender with successful re-integration into society. The Gabriel Dumont Institute situated in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was designed as a CTR to address the needs of Aboriginal women though non-Aboriginal women are also considered for admission. Aboriginal women comprise from 60% to 95% of the female inmate population in Saskatchewan indicative of a need for specialized service (Troyer & Kelly, 1992:4). Female offenders from Saskatchewan's provincial institution, Pinegrove Correctional Centre, and women from P4W are transferred upon approval of an application to complete the remainder of their custodial sentence (up to six months) at the Community Training Residence. Other women are sentenced directly to the Gabriel Dumont Institute. The CTR program emphasizes an individual approach to treatment and strives to involve the client at every stage of her stay. A holistic approach is implemented which explores such considerations as cultural affiliation, spirituality, the influence of addictions, age, parenting responsibilities, marital situation, physical health, level of education, employment history, and residential needs following release. The program stresses the enhancement of self-esteem and the importance of learning social and communication skills in order to problem-solve in a non-violent manner.

2. An increase in the quantity of community services available to federally sentenced women.

Although the issue of female criminality has gained more attention during the past decade, few developments in community programming have been generated as a result. There exist no community-based programs in Canada restricted solely to federal female offenders and few that even incorporate a fragment of their unique needs. The needs and risks have been clearly identified, the criteria for effective programming has been established, the consequential factor now remains a matter of implementing and executing the programs.

3. Women should be linked with community resources prior to their release from prison.

The literature reveals that women are often released from prison having made little connection with resources within their communities. While it has been identified that the two most important criteria for successful parole are family support and employment (Faith, 1993:169), few women have such goals established upon discharge. Women interviewed by The Task Force for FSW disclosed that they receive little help by case management officers to formulate release plans in spite of the fact that they have insufficient capabilities to establish personal contacts with outside agencies.

Moreover, programs initiated within institutional settings tend to cease upon an offender's release. Women who involve themselves in programs while incarcerated are accorded no follow-up or aftercare to assist them once discharged. While services offered within prisons have improved marginally in recent years, there have been few links made with the community. Women need to have connections established within the community prior to release.

4. Programs should be designed based upon a holistic approach to treatment and incorporate the unique and diverse needs of FSW.

It is important to reiterate the significance of constructing programs based upon women-centred principles which envelop a holistic approach to treatment. Programs designed for men as well as those which ignore the multitude of concerns identified by women are ill-adapted to sufficiently meet their demands.

5. Continual monitoring and evaluation of community programs should be conducted based upon the criteria established by CSC and The Task Force on Federally Sentenced Women.

As the criteria for effective programming has been established, a comprehensive review of services should be conducted in order to measure their adequacy. At present, few formalized evaluations have be performed on existing programs. Potential clients, therefore, have no knowledge as to which services will most adequately meet their individualized needs.

6. Programs should be staffed with culturally sensitive and diverse workers.

In the Survey of Federally Sentenced Aboriginal Women in the Community (1990), Fran Sugar and Lana Fox conducted interviews of 39 Aboriginal women who had served federal sentences. The women consistently made reference to being victims of long-term domestic and systematic violence which they attributed to widespread racism. Sugar and Fox propose that the solution for Native women is healing through traditional ceremonies, support, compassion, and understanding which allow women to become empowered. Existing services tend to be culturally inappropriate and administered by facilitators who are typically white and male. The authors assert that only Aboriginal people can design and deliver trustworthy programs and only Aboriginal women can truly understand and empathize with the experiences of their sisters (18).

The need for culturally appropriate programs remains true for all women. As it is impractical to develop services which represent all ethnic backgrounds however, programs should be staffed with culturally diverse workers who receive training on race relations and cultural sensitivity.

7. A detailed examination of programs and services available to federally sentenced women across Canada should be initiated.

Renée Waltman, of Parole Services Central Toronto District, is currently working on a project which includes a comprehensive investigation of resources available to FSW throughout Ontario. Similar research needs to be extended across the country in order to determine where services are presently located and where they require implementation. The most recent Canadian directory of services available to female offenders dates back to 1985 (Adelberg & LaPrairie), and many resources listed in the guidebook are no longer in existence. Furthermore, the search of literature revealed no

such directory designed specifically to identify services for federally sentenced women. It is possible that exemplary programs for women are available but not documented in the literature; a survey needs to be conducted to determine whether or not this is the case.